Increasingly, the argument is not about whether the European Union needs to reform but how it should reform – says Britain’s Europe Minister David Lidington, writing for Policy Review
A little over a year ago, The Economist wrote a piece analysing Britain’s place in Europe. There was not a lot of good news. Efforts to reform the way Brussels works were simply “making things worse” as “other countries are tiring of British demands”. The best we could hope for, it was argued, was to “rediscover the virtues of muddling along”.
They were wrong. The last year shows why. The British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech in January set a clear vision for a reformed Europe, which we will work with our partners to achieve: one that is open, flexible, competitive and democratically accountable. Since then, this vision has won support across the continent. Increasingly, the argument is not about whether the European Union needs to reform but how it should reform.
To quote again The Economist, this time 11 months later “continental Europeans are coming round to the long-held British view that the EU should be smaller, less bureaucratic and lighter on business”.
We are making progress. To take a few examples. The first ever cut to the EU’s multi-annual budget, secured by the British PM and a group of allies, saving billions. The launch of negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the United States by the PM at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne. This would be the biggest trade deal in history, worth up to £10bn a year to the United Kingdom.
We followed this up with agreement on the EU-Canada trade deal worth up to £1.3bn a year to the UK. Separately, 2013 saw the launch of EU-Japan trade talks that could add 0.6 per cent to the whole of the EU’s gross domestic product.
In addition, we saw decentralisation of decision-making on fisheries – the first time the EU has actually given powers back to member states and an end to the wasteful practice of discarding healthy, edible fish. There was also action to cut Brussels red tape. In October the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and leaders from seven countries listened to the UK prime minister’s business taskforce and businesses from across the EU – and their call for less burdensome EU regulation and a deeper single market in services and digital. On that front, we also secured an important exemption for microbusinesses from a set of unnecessary accounting regulations.
Meanwhile, a new Single European Patent is set to reduce costs to entrepreneurs by up to 80 per cent. One of three courts, focused on biotechnology and the life sciences, will sit in London, reinforcing the UK’s leadership and excellence in those fields and bringing in at least £200m a year to the country.
There is much, much more to do. In 2014, a new European Commission presents an opportunity for a new way of doing business. As the Dutch have said, we need a new principle: ‘European where necessary, national where possible.’ What people across the EU need from the commission is a laser focus on building Europe’s competitiveness and enabling growth. Our achievements this year have fired me up for the challenge of making that a reality.
David Lidington is Minister for Europe in the United Kingdom government